The remarkable thing about Gerald Ford’s many funeral and memorial services was that they brought together so many strands of the American political spectrum.
What else but the desire to pay homage to the moderate Republican who restored a measure of decency and self-control to the federal system that had just taken a brutal battering during Richard Nixon’s lawless presidency could have brought together both former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Both men delivered eulogies for Ford before the 38th president before he was laid finally to rest near the library that is named for him in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Carter, the thoughtful man of peace and diplomacy, and Rumsfeld, the arrogant and inept man of war, are radically different public figures, and they will be remembered in very different ways by history. Yet, Gerald Ford was broad enough in his perspective, and in his understanding of the role of a president and former president, to count both men as his counselors and friends.
Perhaps the greatest loss that has taken place during the past few years is the recognition that a president must be bigger than his ideology, his party or himself. George Bush’s presidency has had a cutthroat character to it — not just because of Bush own uncompromising nature but because of Vice President Dick Cheney’s fear of facts and aversion to the truth. But, to be frank, the presidency of Bill Clinton that preceded it was not much better when it came to hearing — let alone respecting — dissenting voices.
America has been ill-served in recent years by leaders who have not appreciated a basic tenet of leadership: That the man or woman in charge is best served by a range of acquaintance, an array of advice and the prospect of being challenged when one is wrong. Gerald Ford’s lingering appeal has much to do with his ability to find a place in his circle for both a Jimmy Carter and a Donald Rumsfeld. And as Americans cast about for our next commander-in-chief, we would be wise to seek a president who has about him or her something of Ford’s ability to look beyond easy alliances and toward the ideas and answers that come from open inquiry and wide consultation.
John Nichols’ new book, The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at
The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at